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History of Iowa

Volume III


The picture included with this Chapter is:  The Cardiff Giant

The Democratic State Convention met at Des Moines on the 10th of August, 1870, and nominated the following candidates:  Secretary of State, Charles Doerr; Auditor, Wesley W. Garner; Treasurer, W. C. James; Attorney-General, H. M. Martin; Register Land Office, D. F. Ellsworth; Clerk Supreme Court, Wm. McLennan; Reporter, C. H. Bane; Judges of Supreme Court, J. C. Knapp, P. H. Smythe and Reuben Noble.  The only resolution of importance relating to State affairs was the following:  "We assert the right of the people by legislative enactment to tax, regulate and control all moneyed corporations, upon which extraordinary rights are conferred by charters."

The Republican State Convention met at Des Moines on the 17th of August and placed in nomination the following candidates:  for Judges of the Supreme Court, C. C. Cole, W. E. Miller and James G. Day; Secretary of State, Ed. Wright; Auditor, John Russell; Treasurer, S. E. Rankin; Register Land Office, Aaron Brown; Attorney-General, Henry O'Connor; Reporter Supreme Court, E. H. Stiles; Clerk, Charles Linderman.  The resolutions endorsed the administration of President Grant; favored a tariff for revenue; favored legislation to protect the people from the oppressions of corporations and welcomed to our State persons of every race and color seeking homes in our midst.

The election resulted in the success of the Republican candidates.  The vote for Secretary of State was as follows:  Ed. Wright 103,377, Charles Doerr, 60,888, Wright's majority--42,489.  The votes for other candidates did not vary materially from this.  The proposition to hold a convention to revise the Constitution of the State was defeated by the following vote:  for a convention 24,846; against a convention 82,039.

There was an animated contest in the Sixth Congressional District at the Republican Convention, where Hon. Charles Pomeroy was a candidate  for reelection.  He had served but one term and strong opposition in his nomination for a second time had grown up in the district.  In  the election of delegates Webster County, his home was carried by the opposition and several candidates appeared before the convention.  On the fourteenth ballot a majority of the opposition united upon Captain Jackson Orr of Boone County, who was nominated by a vote of one hundred and twelve to seventy-three divided between Mr. Pomeroy and five other candidates.

In the summer of 1870 General N. B. Baker and Governor Merrill in conjunction with several distinguished officers of the late Civil War, planned a grand reunion of Iowa soldiers to be held at the Capital of the State where the comrades of the long years of the War of the Rebellion might meet and renew the friendships of the camp, march and battle-field.  The proposition met with universal favor and was received with enthusiasm by the "boys in blue."  General Baker at once entered upon the formidable work of making all needful preparations for the transportation, care and comfort of the grand army of citizen soldiers sure to gather from all parts of the State.  The railroad officials were persuaded to grant free transportation, General Sherman and General Belknap, then Secretary of War, came from Washington to greet the Iowa soldiers.  The time fixed for the reunion was August 31st and it continued through two days.  More than 20,000 Iowa soldiers came together for the first time since the war and 30,000 citizens assembled to see and give them a cordial welcome.  Five years had passed since the soldiers had been mustered out of the service and this meeting of comrades who had marched, camped and fought together in many campaigns, was an event never to be forgotten.  No such reunion had occurred since the grand review at Washington in 1865, just before the close of the war.  Most of the distinguished Iowa officers who survived were present and took part in the interesting exercises and again greeted their old comrades.  It was the proudest day in General Baker's life as he was continually reminded of the warm affection entertained for him by "his boys."  Every soldier wanted to take him by the hand.  It was the first and last general reunion of Iowa soldiers.

In the month of October, 1869, it was reported in the newspapers that the petrified body of a man of gigantic proportions had been unearthed in digging a well near the village of Cardiff, some thirteen miles from Syracuse, New York.  Upon investigation made by a reporter of the Syracuse Journal, who hurried to the spot, the following facts were learned.  In digging a well on the farm of William Newell at a depth of three feet the spades struck what appeared to be a rock of large size.

Mr. Newell cautioned the men to be careful and taking one of the spades began to remove the earth until he uncovered an immense stone giant.  He directed the workmen to carefully excavate the earth around the petrified man, as he called it, until the form was entirely uncovered, disclosing what appeared to be a human body in a state of petrifaction and of enormous size.  The news of the discovery spread rapidly and soon an excited crowd of villagers gathered around the grave of the giant.  The report of the affair was soon carried to Syracuse and crowds hurried to Cardiff to look at the wonderful discovery.  Mr. Newell erected a tent over the giant, made an excavation around the body and had the water pumped out.  He stationed guards about the tent and a doorkeeper collected half a dollar from each of the rapidly increasing crowd of visitors.  The Syracuse newspapers published glowing descriptions of the "petrified giant" and day by day the throng of visitors increased.  No one was permitted to touch or approach the majestic reclining form of the mysterious man.  A syndicate was speedily organized in the city which offered Mr. Newell $10,000 for his giant, but he refused to sell.  Scientists were puzzled by the discovery, not questioning the statement of Newell that it was a human petrifaction.  Upon visiting the spot to make investigations, they were not permitted to approach near enough to make satisfactory examinations or apply tests to determine the character of the alleged giant.  Several of them were of the opinion that it was a statue, chiseled from a rock.  Among these was Dr. James Hall, the noted geologist of New York, who was the first State Geologist of Iowa and afterward of Wisconsin.  He made as careful an examination as the owner would permit and published a lengthy report of his investigations.  In that report he says:

"It is certainly a great curiosity and, as it now presents itself, the most remarkable archaeological discovery ever made in this country and entirely unlike any relic of the past age yet known to us.  It is clearly a statue cut by human hands and is in no way connected with petrifaction *   *   *   nor is it a cast or model of any kind but an original.  The importance of the object lies in its relation to the race or people of the past, formerly inhabiting that part of the country.  The statue is of a far higher order and of an entirely different character from the smaller works of rude sculpture found in Mexico, Central America, or the Mississippi Valley.

In regard to the question of the antiquity of its origin we are compelled to rely upon the geological and chemical evidence.  That the statue has lain for a long time where it now lies there can be no doubt.  The entire length of the left side and back of the statue is eroded to the depth of an inch or more from the solution and removal of its substance by water percolating through the gravel stratum in which it lies embedded.  Such a process of solution and removal of the gypsum, a mineral of slow solubility in the waters of that region, must have required a long period of years.  Any theory of the recent burial of the statue in this place is disproved by the fact of the extensive solution and removal of the surface by water coming in by the gravel bed from the southwest.  The most extensive erosion has taken place on the left side and beneath the back upon that side corresponding to the direction from which the water came.  You will see therefore upon any theory of inhumation must have time for the gradual dissolving of the stone.  So long as the alluvial deposit was going on this portion was covered by water and there would be no current along the gravel bed and this movement of the water would only take place after the drainage of the stream or the lake to a lower level.  Therefore so long as the alluvial deposit was going on and the water remained above the level, there would be no current and consequently no erosion.

This statement answers the inquiry as to what are some of the evidences of its antiquity."

Thus an eminent geologist vouched for the great antiquity of the Cardiff Giant and for the fact that it could not have been buried in recent ages.

The mystery surrounding the whole affair seemed only to deepen with investigation.  Learned men differed widely as to what it was, its antiquity and probable origin, but all agreed that it was one of the most mysterious and remarkable discoveries ever made in America.  People came by hundreds and thousands, from all parts of the country, looked with awe and wonder upon the giant and went away to spread the news among their neighbors.  The receipts had now reached more than $1,000 a day and still the crowds increased.

One George Hull, a cousin of Mr. Newell, appeared upon the ground soon after the discovery and took charge of the exhibition.  P. T. Barnum sent an agent to purchase the giant which was becoming a serious competitor to his museum but a local syndicate had been organized which had made a contract for the giant at a price which was reported to be $40,000.

H. B. Martin of Marshalltown, Iowa, had recently appeared at Cardiff and it soon developed that he was one of the owners of the petrified man.  A pamphlet was now issued by the owners showing a portrait of the giant at full length, prostrate, as he was discovered.  He was named the "American Goliath" and described as a "Petrified Giant."

Mr. Newell retained a quarter interest in the "Giant," and some weeks later after thousands of people came and gazed with awe upon the wonder, and the receipts were reported to be reaching fabulous amounts, the value of the "Giant" was estimated at $240,000.  Hull and Martin about this time were understood to have disposed of their interest in the "petrified man" to the syndicate.  But the reader will naturally inquire-what connection has all of this with the history of Iowa?

More than a thousand miles westward, in the upper valley of the Des Moines River, was the picturesque village of Fort Dodge.  In its vicinity are extensive deposits of gypsum which have been known since the founding of the town.  In the fall of 1867, one H. B. Martin stopped several days at the St. Charles hotel and spent some time in examining the gypsum formations.  He seemed deeply interested in the beautiful variegated stone which had been used in the construction of some of the best residences in the village.  On the 6th of June, 1868, he returned in company with George Hull.  They made the acquaintance of C. B. Cummins, a prominent citizen who owned a quarry on Soldier Creek.  They informed him that they wished a block of the gypsum twelve feet long, four feet wide and from two to three feet thick for which they offered to pay well.  They claimed that they wished to ship it to New York to exhibit as a specimen of the mineral productions of Iowa and thus interest capitalists in the development of the gypsum deposits.  They were informed by Mr. Cummins that a block of such large dimensions would be very expensive, that it would weigh five tons and that there were no wagons in that region strong enough to transport it forty miles to the nearest railroad station.  They replied that expense was no consideration and that they could provide means to convey it to the railroad.  Upon further conversation, Mr. Cummins came to the conclusion that they were adventurers having some fraud in view and refused to deal with them.  They finally leased an acre of land south of town on Gypsum Creek, and employed Mike Foley an experienced quarryman to get out the block of gypsum of the desired size.  It was difficult to transport and had to be dressed down more than a ton in weight before it could be drawn to the station.

When, in November, 1869, the papers of the country were publishing sensational accounts of the wonderful "Onondaga Giant," a new York paper reached Fort Dodge in which it was stated that Professor Hall had pronounced the alleged petrified giant to be a statue carved out of crystalline gypsum but that the gypsum was of a different color and appearance from any found in that State.  The description of the gypsum as given corresponded with that found at Fort Dodge and the people of that village took note of the resemblance.

Galusha Parsons, a prominent lawyer of the village, on his way to New York viewed the "Petrified Giant" and wrote to the editor of the North West- "I believe it is made of that great block of gypsum those fellows got at Fort Dodge a year ago."  Syracuse papers were sent for, one of the pamphlets giving a description and alleged history of the "Petrified Giant" was procured and the name of George Hull appeared among the owners of the giant.

The North West published at Fort Dodge, now conducted a quiet but thorough investigation, tracing the movements of the block of gypsum, quarried in 1868 by George Hull, to Boone, then the nearest railroad station, from there to Chicago where it was carved into the famous statue, thence to Union, an obscure station near Binghamton, New York, from whence it was conveyed by wagon to the vicinity of Cardiff where all trace of it disappeared.  The chain of evidence thus far was complete.  A pamphlet was issued exposing the fraud and copies sent to Syracuse where the "Giant" was then on exhibition.  They produced great excitement among the visitors and consternation among the owners of the giant.  The proprietors promptly published a statement denying every allegation of the exposure and for a time the public was in doubt, while the controversy among the newspapers brought increasing crowds to see for themselves.  Newspaper reporters were sent to Fort Dodge who followed the story of the pamphlet step to step from the quarry on Gypsum Creek to the artist who carved it into the statue, from there to Union, New York, and to Newell's farm where it was buried.

The controversy which arose over the remarkable "Giant" was not by any means confined to the owners, the newspapers of the day and people who had traveled hundreds of miles to view the "petrified man"; but the Popular Science Monthly, The Galaxy, Silliman's Journal and most of the magazines of that period contained learned and critical articles upon the "remarkable discovery," presenting many theories as to the origin, antiquity and character of the colossal figure which was puzzling the scientific world.

The genius for deception displayed by George Hull, the author of this the most successful fraud, was shown in the selection of a block of gypsum lying partly in the creek where, for thousands of years, erosion had been going on.  In having the statue carved, Mr. Hull instructed the artist to leave the portions of the block showing the erosion on the back and left side of the giant to prove its great antiquity.  It was this erosion more than anything else which deceived Prof. Hall and other scientists and proved to their satisfaction that the giant gave evidence of "great antiquity."  Prof. O. C. Marsh of Yale College and Andrew D. White, first President of Cornell University, were among the early visitors at the Newell farm to investigate the famous "Stone Giant" and they were not deceived.  president White in an article on "The Cardiff Giant," in the October (1902) number of the Century Magazine, says, in writing of the examinations made by Dr. Woolworth of the New York State University and Dr. James Hall:

"On their arrival at Syracuse I met them and urged them to be cautious, reminding them that a mistake might prove very injurious to the reputation of the  regents and to the standing of scientific men in the State; that if the matter should turn out to be a fraud, and such eminent authorities should be found to have committed themselves to it, there would be a guffaw from one end of the country to the other at the expense of the men entrusted by the State with its scientific and educational interests.  Next day they went to Cardiff; they came, they saw, and they narrowly escaped being conquered."

Yet with this caution before them, the erosion so shrewdly preserved by Hull convinced these eminent scientists.  When such high scientific authority was deceived by Hull's inventive genius, it is not strange that the great public of America and Europe insisted on believing it to be a "petrified giant."

Dr. White in his history of the "Giant" above quoted says:

"At no period of my life have I ever been more discouraged regarding the possibility of making reason prevail among men.  There seemed no possibility of suspending the judgment of the great majority who saw the statue.  As a rule they insisted in believing it a 'petrified giant'.

There was but one thing in the figure, as I had seen it, which puzzled me, and that was the grooving of the under side, apparently by currents of water which would require many years."

Dr. White Continues:

"The catastrophe now approached rapidly as affidavits of men of high character in Illinois and Iowa established the fact that the figure was made at Fort Dodge, in Iowa, of a great block of gypsum and transported to the railroad and thence to Chicago where a German stone-cutter gave it its final shape."

When the evidence became too strong to be successfully combated, and Hull had disposed of his interest in his "invention" for $23,000, he became elated over the fame he had acquired, admitted that he was the originator of the "Petrified Giant" and enjoyed greatly the discomfiture of the scientists whom he had deceived.  Finally he made and published a full confession confirming in every important particular the history of the deception as published in the Fort Dodge pamphlet in 1870.  This confession should forever have settled the thirty years' controversy, but thousands of  people continued to believe in the "petrified giant" to the end of their lives.

A graduate of the divinity school of Yale College, Alexander McWhorter, after long study and investigation, a few years ago evolved a new theory as to the "Onondaga Giant," that it was a Phoenician idol, as proved by an inscription he had discovered on the figure, and a crescent shaped wound on the left side.  He said in conclusion his investigations:

"We only know that at some distant period the great statue was brought in a ship of Tarshish across the sea of Atl, was lightly covered with twigs and flowers, and these with gravel."

De. White continues:

"McWhorter's theory found one very eminent convert across the ocean in a place where he might least have expected it.  While residing at Berlin, as minister of the United States, I one day received a letter from an American student of the University at Halle, stating that he had been requested by the eminent Dr. Schlottmann, instructor of Hebrew, to write to me for information regarding the Phoenician statue described by Alexander McWhorter."

Dr. White in reply gave the true history of the fraud but, as incredible as it may appear, the learned Dr. Schlottmann declared that he was not convinced, and that he still believed the Cardiff figure to be a Phoenician statue bearing a most important inscription.

The original Cardiff Giant made from Fort Dodge gypsum was on exhibition at the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo in 1901, and though thirty-two years had elapsed since it was resurrected on Newell's farm, public interest had not ceased and thousands of persons paid admission to the enclosure to see the unique figure of the "Onondaga or Cardiff Giant."

Fort Dodge and its gypsum deposits gained a world wide notoriety from the "Cardiff Giant," but it was the enterprise of three of its own citizens that developed from the gypsum ledges one of the great industries of the State.  For more than a quarter of a century it had been known that extensive deposits of gypsum existed along the Des Moines River in the vicinity of Fort Dodge, and the stone had long been used in the construction of houses and foundations of business blocks.  But no attempt had been made to utilize it for other purposes and little additional value attached to lands under laid with the mineral.

In 1871, Webb Vincent, S. T. Meservey and George S. Ringland formed a partnership for the purpose of grinding and preparing the gypsum for plaster.  They erected a mill near the railroad and began to manufacture stucco for use in making a hard finish for plastering buildings.  for a long time but little demand was found for the product, but by some ingenious experiments stucco was produced which gradually found a good market.  Theirs was the first mill for the production of stucco west of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The new State House at Des Moines, then being constructed, was one of the first public buildings in which it was used.  In 1880 the firm organized "The Iowa Plaster Company" and a second mill was erected which had five times the capacity of the first.  The new mill was equipped with improved machinery and the industry grew under the enterprising direction of its managers until their trade reached the distant markets of the world and became one of the most formidable and profitable of the manufacturing industries of the State.  Other mills were erected until more than $1,200,000 of capital is employed in the business, furnishing work for more than 1,200 men.  The deposits extend over a large tract of country and the supply of gypsum is practically inexhaustible.  So great has been the growth of the business, that solid trains loaded with stucco are daily sent from the mills conveying it to every part of the country.  The development of the gypsum has contributed largely to the rapid growth of Fort Dodge in late years and must in the near future bring auxiliary manufactures to that city.

The National census of 1870 showed the population of Iowa to be 1,191,720.  Davenport was the largest city with a population of 20,141.  Dubuque had 18,432; Burlington, 15,178; Keokuk, 12,769; Des Moines, 12,380; Council Bluffs, 10,021; Iowa City, 7,009; Cedar Rapids, 6,085.  The State at this time held rank as fourth in production of corn, fifth in wheat and sixth in live stock.  The assessed value of the property of the State was reported at $302,515,418.  The aggregate value of farm products was estimated at $114,386,441.


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